The Only Deadline that Matters
By Joe Quirk
If at the end of the year you find you did not complete your manuscript, you did not finish your second draft, or learn a new language or exercise at home with the same regularity you used to at the gym, if at the end of the year you simply made it to the end of the new year, then my advice, for what it’s worth is to run through the tape and take the win.
This year we have been inundated with messages that made the terms “unprecedented times” equivalent to white noise drowned out by its over use, but we should still acknowledge that when the clock strikes midnight and a new year begins, far too many will have lost the chance to experience the event. This is true every year, but it is more pronounced this year above all others in recent memory. When taking stock of what transpired from one point in time to another, often occasioning to coincide with a specific date on the calendar, there may be an inward feeling to judge accomplishments against those pronounced by others. This need not be the case but especially, especially this year.
There is no artificial deadline that requires personal penance or a sacrifice at the altar to the creative muse.
I have nothing against deadlines, in fact nothing quite informs a writer’s imagination than a deadline. When I wrote and drew a comic strip for a select few newspapers, I had a deadline each and every day but Sunday and I knew I would be judged each day on the work on the page based on its own merits irrespective of any goodwill built from all prior submissions. So in that respect, a deadline can eliminate one’s ability to rest on a crutch of “writers block”. Having a publisher’s deadline can create a focus in the mind that can hopefully turn the good into the great while never allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
I’m even a big fan of personal deadlines when they are placed with a particular goal in mind. These can be quite positive for reasons stated above.
I am not in favor of artificial deadlines imposed by societal expectations which provide no benefit to the creative spirit and merely foster a fountain of guilt flowing forth from a wellspring of unreasonable expectations. Such deadlines can be associated with birthdays, with anniversaries of any sort or, in the case we started from, with the end of a year and the beginning of a new one.
It is especially important not to form an unreasonable societal deadline from the artificial artifice of a ball dropping in Times Square on New Year’s Eve during a year when a pandemic altered every expectation we had when the ball dropped 365 nights before it. The year of 2020 was a year of trauma. Human beings are affected by trauma in different ways and we can’t allow our expectations of ourselves be compared to someone else’s results when how we all experience trauma was different. The cause of the trauma was the same for all of us but how that trauma manifested itself and how we experienced it was unique and personal for every person on the planet.
So there are times when we have to look at the calendar being turned to a new year and recognize that the ability to do it ourselves is the most necessary thing we needed to accomplish. Run through the tape and take the win. Your manuscript, second draft, learning a new language or any other project or creative idea will be there at 12:01am. We need to have compassion, empathy and love for those who experienced the year in more tragic ways than our own.
Stay safe and healthy, help others as you can and in the next year, when we relearn the phrase “normal times” we can consider taking on our own personal deadlines or if we’re lucky, publishing deadlines, and leave any societal expectation deadlines alone and let them go into history with the year 2020.